Jan - Feb 2012: Article

Developing a Logistics Major's 5-Year Plan

The author provides guidance for majors preparing for promotion to lieutenant colonel. The secret lies in having a valid, updated 5-year plan.

While serving as a logistics majors' assignment officer for 2 years, I was often asked what it is really like to work at the Army Human Resources Command (HRC). I answered this question in many different ways. My answer changed often because every day brought a new set of challenges. One of the consistent challenges was the large number of logistics majors and senior leaders who had difficulty understanding the logistics major's professional timeline. One tool to help them understand and manage this timeline is a 5-year plan.

Why You Need a 5-Year Plan
Approximately a month into serving as one of the three logistics majors' assignment officers, I learned two valuable pieces of information that would shape how we assisted logistics majors over the next 2 years. First, the logistics promotion rate to lieutenant colonel had decreased from 90 percent to 76 percent. Second, the officers who were not selected for promotion to lieutenant colonel typically had not completed schools or served in positions that were outlined as key and developmental (KD) in Department of the Army Pamphlet (DA Pam) 600–3, Commissioned Officer Professional Development and Career Management.

When these officers called to ask why they were not selected for promotion to lieutenant colonel, I turned the question and and asked them why they did not serve in any KD positions or complete Intermediate Level Education (ILE). After several minutes of discussion, it was clear that they did not understand their professional timeline and the associated requirements. It also became clear that most officers assumed that promotion selection rates would remain high and thus they would virtually be guaranteed the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Fast forward 2 years, and the promotion rates for logistics majors to lieutenant colonel have remained below the Army average. Fiscal year (FY) 2009 started the downward trend from the high 90 percent range to a 76 percent selection rate, FY 2010 followed closely with 75 percent, and FY 2011 continued the trend with a 74 percent selection rate. These drops in promotion rates occurred before the grade-plate reductions. [In 2011, the Chief of Staff of the Army approved a restructuring of the officer grade plates to increase the number of company-grade officer positions by 1,392 and decrease the number of field-grade officer positions by 2,208 (682 of which are lieutenant colonel positions) for a total decrease in officer positions of 816.]

If these trends continue, promotion to lieutenant colonel in the future will be even more difficult for officers who do not complete the requirements outlined in DA Pam 600–3. To better prepare logistics majors for selection to lieutenant colonel, I recommend developing and using a tool you have probably had leaders tell you to keep in your professional kit bag: a 5-year plan.

Professional Timeline
The 5-year plan is not a new concept, but it is something that most officers neglect to write down or have reviewed by a peer or mentor. If you are one of the few who already have a 5-year plan in your professional kit bag, when was the last time you updated it based on the Chief of Staff of the Army's Manning Guidance, DA Pam 600–3, or the information provided to you by your assignment officer? Most officers spend hours, days, or weeks ensuring that calendars, concepts of support, or review and analysis slides are updated and accurate. If you spent just 1 percent of that time on your professional timeline, it would likely assist you in more ways than you may think.

The first thing to understand is that you are not alone in this process. Plenty of great examples are available, including those sent out over the last 2 years in the Logistics Majors Newsletter. The format you use needs to fit your personal and professional requirements.

Your professional timeline as a major is likely much different from your rater's and is certainly different from those of your senior rater and mentor. The differences are important not only for you to understand but also for your rater, senior rater, mentor, and significant other (if applicable) to understand.

I cannot tell you how many times I have received a phone call from a senior leader who was concerned about Major X because he was assigned to a position that was not KD or had not attended ILE as a major. Once I tell him that Major X has another 5 years until his lieutenant colonel board, I often get silence.

As an assignment officer, this tells me two things: Major X does not know that he will spend 6 years as a major, and his senior leader is still thinking along the lines of how he, himself, had been successful. Major X needs to understand that what made his mentor successful may not work for him, and a senior leader should not give advice that is based only on his own experiences. Both officers need to understand and embrace change. Keep in mind that these are not HRC's rules. These are the FY 2011 Chief of Staff of the Army's Manning Guidance and policies outlined in DA Pam 600–3. HRC is simply the agency responsible for enforcing these policies and guidance.

The professional timeline changes based on the current policy are very clear:

  • An officer will spend 6 years as a major, not 4 years.
  • A major will attend ILE and does not have to worry about being board selected to attend the Army Command and General Staff College.
  • A major will get no more than 24 months of KD time, even though the senior leader that mentored him had 36 or more months.
  • Time not spent in a KD position or ILE will be spent in a broadening position. (Examples can be found in DA Pam 600–3.)

KD Position
Each major should complete three major milestones. The first, and most important, milestone is the KD position. My first recommendation is to read DA Pam 600–3, particularly the portion on logistics majors. There you will find a list of KD positions. KD positions are fundamental in developing an officer's core branch or functional area competencies and are critical for providing experience across the Army's strategic mission.

Before we go any further, let's dispel a common myth from the field. HRC does not decide what is classified as a KD position or what position is not considered KD. The proponents (the Army Combined Arms Support Command, the Quartermaster School, the Ordnance School, and the Transportation School) decide what logistics positions are KD. Assignment officers are charged with enforcing these decisions. The list of positions is clear and is best used when not interpreted to fit your particular situation. (For example, the support operations [SPO] section has only one SPO [officer]. The supply and services officer in a SPO section is not the SPO, and it is not a KD position.) DA Pam 600–3 does not use the buzz words "soft KD" and "hard KD," nor does it provide a rank ordering of best-to-worst KD positions. DA Pam 600–3 goes into further detail stating, "There is no one particular KD job in a specific unit that is considered most important or a must have for promotion or selection."

ILE
The next milestone is generally considered to be completing ILE. ILE can be completed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, or at several other locations in the continental United States. Most officers will attend ILE at Fort Leavenworth. The course is offered twice a year. One course begins in August and finishes in June, and the other course begins in February and ends in December. When you attend and what course you attend are generally based on your year group and your particular professional timeline. In general, logistics majors do not attend ILE immediately after selection to major because there are not enough ILE seats.

Logistics majors average 166 seat allocations at ILE per year. Year group 2001 has 222 logistics majors. The difference for just this one year group is 77 seats. Imagine if we took the difference between the number of logistics majors and the available logistics major spaces at ILE for year groups 1996 to 2000. That would identify quite a backlog. Logistics is only one branch, and every branch in the Army is experiencing the same backlog. That is why assignment officers are forced to assign majors to KD positions or broadening positions before ILE.

The key for logistics majors is to complete ILE before their lieutenant colonel promotion board. This is important because the FY 2011 Chief of Staff of the Army's Manning Guidance specifically states that beginning in FY 2013 ILE "will be a requirement before promotion to Lieutenant Colonel" and ILE will be a requirement to be considered for a lieutenant colonel-level command. As a result, priority for ILE seat allocations will continue to go to the senior year groups.

The chart below shows the percentages of logistics majors who have completed ILE. As you can see, the more senior the year group, the more likely the officer is to have completed ILE. You can also see that some officers in junior year groups have completed ILE. This goes back to the point that each officer's professional timeline is reviewed and taken into consideration. One thing to keep in mind is that ILE can be completed before or after KD time and even before or after broadening time. Approximately 40 percent of logistics majors attend the course as KD-complete majors. Although this is not the assignment manager's goal, it is the direct result of ILE seat allocations.

Broadening Time
The final milestone is broadening time. KD time and ILE require at most 34 months of your time as a major. This leaves over 3 years for you to serve in a broadening position. DA Pam 600–3 defines a broadening position as "assignments that develop a wider range of knowledge and skills, augment understanding of the full spectrum of Army missions, promote practical application of language training or increase cross cultural exposure, and expand officer awareness of other governmental agencies, units or environments."

DA Pam 600–3 says that for logistics majors these positions include joint, interagency, intergovernmental, multinational, military transition teams, and staff positions at the expeditionary sustainment command level and higher. The bottom line is that your broadening experience should challenge you and develop your skill set to operate at various levels of command. Again, this can be completed before or after KD time or ILE.

Developing Your 5-Year Plan
Once you have articulated a tentative plan for your logistics major timeline that includes KD time, ILE, and broadening time (in no particular order), you can begin to develop a potential 5-year plan. Your 5-year plan is like a logistics synchronization matrix. It must be accurate, detailed, and synchronized in order to be effective. Obviously, the three major milestones must be separated by time. For example, you cannot be in ILE while in a KD position and you are not getting broadened while serving in a KD position. The milestones should generally cover the 6 years you will spend as a major.

Second, once you realize you can complete the milestones in any particular order, it is probably best to develop multiple courses of action within the 5-year plan. This provides you with some flexibility when discussing future positions and PCS (permanent change of station) moves with your rater, senior rater, mentor, and significant other. DA Pam 600–3 has an example that you may find helpful.

Refining Your 5-Year Plan
You have now completed your working 5-year plan. In order for it to be an effective tool, you must use it and not just place it in your "I love me book" or store it on a laptop. My recommendation is to review it with your rater. A good time to review your 5-year plan is during your quarterly counseling. If you are not being counseled quarterly, or at all, use this tool to gauge your boss's view of your performance and, more importantly, your potential as a field-grade officer.

It is important for you to share this information with your rater and senior rater so everyone is on the same sheet of music. Some of the talking points when reviewing your plan should include the importance of completing 18 to 24 months of KD time, PCSing after 18 to 24 months of KD time, a timeline for submitting a DA Form 4187 for attendance at ILE, your next promotion board, your next officer evaluation report (OER), and a general review of your overall timeline. It may help to have a copy of this article with you to inform your rater about what HRC is briefing the field. Your rater and senior rater may not be aware of recent trends, such as lowered promotion rates for logistics majors to lieutenant colonel. This may not shape his OER comments or even the blocking you receive on your OER, but it will provide him with updated situational awareness.

Once you have gone through your 5-year plan with your rater or senior rater, it is important to get an outsider's perspective on your refined plan. If you have a mentor, now is the perfect time to review your plan with him to get his input. A fresh set of eyes with a different perspective is always a good thing when developing a plan. You may have missed some considerations during the review with your rater and senior rater. If you do not have a mentor, you can review it with a peer who is willing to give you honest feedback. This is your chance to review and update your plan before your next quarterly counseling.

The next step in refining your 5-year plan is to review it with your significant other. This could be considered the most important step for many reasons. Some points of discussion should include the high likelihood of PCSing three times in 6 years (KD, ILE, broadening), the potential costs associated with gaining a master's degree, or the likelihood of deploying if your dwell time is in excess of 36 months. Although these topics may be difficult to discuss, your significant other will likely appreciate the advanced notice and predictability. These discussions may lead to important personal decisions, like buying versus renting a home or volunteering for a deployment versus waiting for your assignment officer to place you on a Worldwide Individual Augmentee System tasker.

What to Do With Your Completed Plan
When your 5-year plan has been reviewed and updated with input from your rater, senior rater, mentor, and significant other, send a copy to your assignment officer. When an assignment officer receives a 5-year plan, he reviews it and places it in your file. (This is important because you will likely have three assignment officers in your 6 years as a major.) The assignment officer will also likely make comments in the Total Officer Personnel Management Information System, which is automatically accessed every time you call him. The more the assignment officer knows about you and your plan, the easier it is for him to assist you with achieving your plan.

You should also ask the assignment officer to review your plan with you. This is generally done over the phone and should be a scheduled event. The assignment officer will always fall back on the guidance and policies provided to him through the Chief of Staff Army's Manning Guidance and DA Pam 600–3. He does not know you and your individual situation nearly as well as your rater, senior rater, mentor, and significant other do. Sharing your 5-year plan will let him know your personal career aspirations.

Once your plan is refined and complete and you feel comfortable that it will help you achieve your professional goals, you need to update it regularly. An easy way to remember your 5-year plan maintenance schedule is to think of it like your vehicle or sensitive items. It also requires you to conduct preventive maintenance checks and services (PMCS). Your plan does not require daily or weekly PMCS. However, a review once a quarter, in conjunction with your quarterly counseling, is probably realistic.

A quarterly PMCS should be sufficient to keep your plan updated. However, I recommend looking at it semiannually with both your mentor and significant other. This will keep a fresh set of eyes on your plan and can serve as a springboard for you to regularly contact your mentor and openly discuss it with your significant other. The annual service should be completed by sending your assignment officer an updated plan and reviewing it with him in person or over the phone. This forces you to have a working relationship with your assignment officer and keep the lines of communication open for future assignments and schooling.

Your 5-year plan can be an effective tool if it is maintained regularly and is a collaborative effort among you, your rater, senior rater, mentor, significant other, and assignment officer. Once you have mastered this process, you should demand the same from your subordinates. Before you know it, you will be a mentor reviewing 5-year plans.

Lieutenant Colonel Nathan M. Swartz is the commander of the 703d Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3d Infantry Division, at Fort Stewart, Georgia. He was assigned to the Army Human Resources Command from June 2009 to July 2011. He holds a bachelor's degree in political science from Middle Tennessee State University and a master's degree in business and supply chain management/logistics from the University of Kansas. He is a graduate of the Quartermaster Officer Basic Course, the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, and Intermediate Level Education at the Army Command and General Staff College.

 

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